case study

A Robust, Effective Online Simulation that Increases Engagement


Dr. Hollinger’s classes have been designed around simulations paired with textbooks for years. Originally, he used an in-person simulation he created. When classes suddenly went online, he had to pivot quickly for the new format, and decided to use Statecraft as his new simulation solution. He’s been impressed with what a robust, effective tool it is for an online environment. Plus, it saves him time compared to running a simulation manually.

His students really get into the simulations, even staying after class to play. He sees students naturally making connections to the textbook material and even picking up other unplanned lessons. They’re always surprised to discover that cooperation is the most effective strategy. Dr. Hollinger has set up a unique game configuration strategy that rewards them for peaceful collaboration and also lets them play “risk” at the end of the game just for fun.

For Dr. Hollinger, the best thing about the simulations has been the increased student engagement. This is his third semester using Statecraft Simulations in multiple classes: “Adapting Statecraft has been effective. Now in any online course I teach I’ll use Statecraft.”


Spring 2021, February 22nd


Dr. Keith Hollinger holds a  PhD in governance and globalization, an MA in Political Science and a BS in economics with a concentration on International Economics. He’s been teaching since 2010 and is currently a Senior Lecturer and Director of Undergraduate Education for Polytechnic Social Sciences at Arizona State University. Dr. Hollinger has completed at least five full sim run-throughs of the IR and IO sims in the past year. 


The best thing about Statecraft is the student engagement. My students stay after class to play. I always have 100% participation, and I always have 100% attendance.



I’ve run simulations for years. I built my own intended for face-to-face interactions. What happened was: when we transitioned to Zoom learning, I wasn’t able to deploy my simulation. I use different colored poker chips for resources, it’s not intended to be online. 

In early 2020 everything was “normal” and the University went on spring break. I took a camping trip, was gone for six days and when I came back the whole state was on lockdown. 

Suddenly I had one day to transition my class online. My classes are designed around a simulation paired with a textbook, so I adopted Statecraft as a stopgap. 

I grabbed Statecraft, linked it up with my current syllabus, and just kept rolling. I had some familiarity with it from a conference demo, so I wasn’t afraid to launch it with one day’s notice. 


The students get into it. I actually have situations where I use part of the class for lecture and I can look at them and tell they’re saying, “Just shut up and let us go back to the simulation.” They really get into it.

 I can’t use a master Zoom room because my students do not leave class. Last semester, I had students who would stay online up to four hours after class. Not one single group, many students from all the groups would stay. 


I set it up so students have designated playing time. They break out in their teams twice a week, and then we have big international debates and negotiation as a full group. Since my students don’t leave class when it’s over, I have to assign a new Zoom host. I say: “Okay, when you decide to leave, assign a new host until everyone’s gone. Make sure you keep the room open for everyone.” I assign a new host and go off to teach my next class while I know my other class is still going on.

This simulation is so much more robust for an online environment. 

Even with the Zoom environment, it’s very robust. It helps to coordinate it in Zoom because I can get them locked away into rooms where no one else can hear what they’re doing. Although it does hinder their spying.


The lesson connections just come out naturally. The way the textbook is designed, they read, they stop, they write a little bit about a concept. These are the core concepts of the field for that topic.

Of course, they’re going to see the concepts in the simulation, because they’re describing the macro processes, macro systems. That’s what they’re recreating in the simulation, so it’s an obvious link for them. I think it’s extremely effective. 


I have students use the memos to relate what aspects of their textbook they’re observing and experiencing in the simulation. Then they have a textbook shared writing, where I ask them to talk about the simulation in terms of the textbook with each other.

Whatever the content is for the textbook chapter, I focus on that in the simulation.

I’ll give you an example: I have two classes right now whose chapters align in the textbook. They’re both dealing with global terrorism. I challenged them last class to see if they could find a solution to global terrorism in the simulation. Right now they’re actually applying the chapter in both classes, trying to solve the global terrorism problem. 

Through the application the students are able to pick up all kinds of other little aspects that you wouldn’t think to teach in a lecture class. 

For example, when dealing with the terrorists, they also learned about minority politics. Or with the melting glacier climate crisis I can focus on the sustainable development aspect. I challenge them to come up with a sustainable development plan and propose it to the other countries for a treaty.


Students are always shocked to learn that cooperation at the international level is more efficient and effective at meeting goals for everyone involved, regardless of their government type. 

They notice as soon as they go into some form of intense competition all their resources are consumed. The lesson is: yes, be competitive… but be cooperative first.


I set it up so that students don’t know when the simulation is going to end. I build in 10 turns extra, so that it goes past the end of the semester right now. They can roughly figure it out because the textbook ends. This is a generation of gamers. They know how to win the game, and they’ll figure it out early from looking at the awards at the end.  

Once I give awards and they receive their grade points, I have a tradition: they get to go to war. Now it’s just for fun. They can use whatever resources they built up to play risk and destroy everything.

So they build these awesome cooperative systems, and then they use those countries to fight it out, just for a game. They think it’s a lot of fun. It gives them an incentive. 

They want to cooperate just enough to make sure that everything gets achieved and no one goes to war before grading. They also want to maneuver themselves so that they’re dominant; they know there’s an endgame war coming. They know that they’re building up for this war, and they don’t know who’s going to be on top. That adds a lot of uncertainty. It makes it more realistic, because isn’t that possibility what countries are always preparing for?


Running my original in-person my simulation was extremely time consuming. I did everything manually with spreadsheets and bags full of poker chips in the room. Statecraft absolutely saves me time administering the simulation.

I have brief lectures and discussions to make sure they’ve gotten the main points. I’ll administer a quiz on the most important components in class. I make sure they’re getting the material, I answer any questions. Then they go into the breakout rooms and they are in negotiations, and I just cycle through the rooms to manage negotiations. 

It saves a lot of course prep time because they’re actively engaged in the application. It’s a helpful Simulation.


The best thing about Statecraft is the student engagement. My students stay after class to play. I always have 100% participation, and I always have 100% attendance.

Since I have these dedicated playing times, my students are afraid to miss class. Because things happen, and then they get lost… They’ll miss one class, and then they won’t miss any more. They let their teams know they’re very engaged. If they’re not going to be in class, they make sure that they send out whatever their decisions will be, their opinions and they set up a proxy, and let me know.

It’s really improved student engagement and retention. Adapting Statecraft has been effective. Now in any online course I teach I’ll use Statecraft.

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